Saturday, May 7, 2011

Of Opposums and Automobiles

In the baptismal service of the Episcopal church, we pray for the person to have “the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” Grasping this gift isn’t always easy for me.
            One morning several years ago I was gently (and unintentionally) rebuked by a neighbor. She was cleaning out her storage space in the carport that the three apartments share; I was cleaning out my car before taking it on what would likely be our final ride.
            “I took the car in for an oil change yesterday, and it needs $1,500.00 worth of work. So I’m going to buy a new car today,” I told her.
            “Congratulations!” she said. “That’s exciting—like a gift.”
            How was it possible? A freelancer herself, with a son to support, she didn’t view this development as the ultimate tragedy of car payments resuming. Everyone else I’d talked to knew buying a car was a hassle, especially for a lone woman walking onto a lot. But this woman thought of it as a gift.
            And then she found another unexpected gift: an opossum had made a nest in her storage area and was in residence, nursing her young brood. Although my neighbor’s first reaction was “Ooooh—yuck!” she soon grew tender and commented that her son needed to see them. It took me awhile to find the creatures in the dark corner; I could hear the babies suckling before I saw the white fur and dark spots. I can appreciate the beauty of life continuing in the opposums’s precarious lives. They’ll nest anywhere that feels remotely comfortable.
            I’ve lived here long enough to have gotten pretty well past my fear of the critters wandering around their woods, where several decades ago people were so rude as to build homes. An opposum used to live under my porch in the crawl space; raccoons have made havoc of the boxes in my storage space. The heavy scent of skunk has awakened me some nights. I’ve also awakened early and seen deer passing a short distance from my bedroom window. I’m the intruder; they belong here, even if they give birth in a storage shed in a carport.
            I’d been dreading that day, which anyone could see was coming—my car is fifteen years old, and for nine of those years it’s had hard service with me. We—my mechanics and I—were going for ten years and a quarter million miles, but this is the end, a few months and 15,000 miles short of the goal. Metal can be as fragile as a newborn opposum.
            Buying myself the gift of reliable transportation wasn’t on my to-do list for the week, but sometimes God doesn’t seem terribly interested in my little timetables. On the other hand, God does care for the sparrow—and for infant opposums.

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